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Earth Hour: a drop or a sea change? March 28, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, energy, environment, language, nature, technology, world.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Lights around the world - image from Inhabitat

Lights out for Earth Hour. That’s the message circling around the globe as we speak, as the clock ticks down to the action hour: 8 p.m. on March 29. Organizers are hoping that millions of people around the world will participate, turning off lights and other electrical appliances not in use.

This worldwide light-switch flipping won’t be as dramatic as it sounds — even from the vantage of the International Space Station — since 8 p.m. arrives at a different time in each time zone. (And in case you were wondering about the image above that I gleaned from Inhabitat, it’s obviously not a satellite image, because only half the world should be in darkness at one time. But I digress…)

Earth Hour logoParticipating cities will include: Bangkok, Brisbane, Buenos Aires, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Fiji, Halifax, Manila, Montreal, San Juan, Scott Base (Antarctica), Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. With a couple of exceptions, these cities ring the centre of the planet, representing the most densely populated and richest countries.

There are two key objectives for Earth Hour. The first is to engage as many households, communities and business to turn off their lights for one hour on March 29. The second objective is to measure the change in our greenhouse gas emissions over the following 12 months, aiming for a reduction in the year following Earth Hour. The website estimates that if the greenhouse reduction achieved in the Sydney during that hour was sustained for a year, it would be equivalent to taking 48,616 cars off the road for a year.

Earth Hour is turning out to be a major public-relations coup for the organizers — it’s backed by the World Wildlife Fund — and provides a positive outlet for society’s current need to “do something” about the environment. What could be simpler than turning off your lights for an hour, on a weekend, in early evening?

I support this idea in principle, but I can’t help asking questions:

  • Will this action make a difference? In terms of the actual effect of turning off lights, the net environmental benefit will be a drop in the bucket compared to overall power usage. Still, when Earth Hour got its start (with participation of an estimated 2 million people plus businesses) last year in Sydney, Australia, power consumption dropped about 10 percent over the course of the hour. That may be small change in terms of power consumption, but that’s big change in terms of participation.
  • Are participants pawns in a play for government funding? The fact is, climate change affects everyone, but it is too big for us to act alone; we need governments as well as people to commit themselves to change. A collective action can be stronger than a vote, especially if a higher percentage of people participate in Earth Hour than voted in the last federal election. That should help move environmental issues to the top of the political agenda.
  • Why should I bother when my arrogant neighbours will be acting selfishly by [fill in the blank]? If you’ve ever had the experience of picking up trash only to find someone littering behind you, you will probably have asked yourself this question. Everyone has a different answer. All I can say is, any small thankless task that you do that makes the world — even momentarily — a better place inspires me to act for the greater good as well.
  • What will make this tiny drop in the ocean — environmentally speaking — into a sea change of behavioural difference? The act of turning off a light is largely symbolic, especially if people spend their Earth Hour by watching TV in the dark. But awareness is only the first step; Earth Hour participants are encouraged to take part in longer-term changes, and pledge to take actions to reduce their daily energy consumption. With all the eco-friendly information available now, there’s an action for everyone, no matter what your interests.

When I stop to think about it, there are lots of ways I can support the Earth Hour campaign. It will be a great time to take an extended walk with the dog, and if the city lights are dimmer, maybe we’ll see some stars.

In the end, Earth Hour is an opportunity for each of us to act, to educate ourselves, and to remember that we are not alone — that our consumer choices and energy spendthrift ways will eventually affect someone else, somewhere else. And for me, that’s the most compelling reason to take part.

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Related Links:
Earthhour homepage
Toronto Star: Earth Hour special section

Time: “Earth Hour ’08: Will it matter?”



1. lavenderbay - March 29, 2008

Excellent explanation on how little changes in individual behaviour can lead to collective improvement. Very encouraging!

2. Planet Earth plunges into darkness for an hour « exploring our world - March 29, 2008

[…] all very well doing publicity stunts like Earth Hour, but do they really make a difference? Skeptics would say they’re just a gimmick – people are more bothered about the excitement of […]

3. Richard - March 29, 2008

I’m glad you’ve got the right idea about saving our planet – every action, no matter how big or small, is a positive step.

I think Earth Hour should be a great way to draw publicity to the environment, and maybe it will get a few people thinking about turning lights off more.

I think the publicity is probably more important in the long term than the energy savings made during the hour Earth Hour takes place. I hope they keep it up every year! 🙂

4. paula - March 29, 2008

I hadn’t heard about earth hour – but funnily enough we were at an oboe quartet concert in our local community centre at 8pm and Olly, my son, left home just after us and had turned all the lights off in the farmhouse – unusual for him…so Locks Park was in darkness!
Not all that relevant I know, but interesting.

5. eyegillian - March 29, 2008

Thanks for your feedback, Lavenderbay, Richard and Paula! [Paula, that’s a neat coincidence about your house lights being off… so you were part of Earth Hour, whether you knew it or not!] I like the idea that this was a global event, even if it hasn’t spread to every country…. yet.

I’ve just come back from a walk around downtown during Earth Hour. There were definitely fewer lights on in the tall office towers, the huge manic advertising columns at Dundas Square were out, and there was a fire eater and a free concert, with lots of people milling about. I know that several of our neighbours were going to be turning their lights out as well. It was good to be part of this!

6. dogeatery - March 30, 2008

How many earth hours are we going to have, though, before there are concrete steps taken to avoid the looming environmental disaster? Instead of making everybody symbolically sit around in the dark, we should be spreading information about small sacrifices we can all make every day to curb energy usage. Somebody will think they’ve done their part for the environment but will go right back to their wasteful ways the next day. I would like to see everybody turn off the lights when they leave their home or learn how air conditioning works, you know what I mean?


7. eyegillian - March 30, 2008

I agree, dogeatery, that if people only turn off their lights for an hour, and don’t change their attitudes or behaviours, then Earth Hour would be an “Empty Hour” indeed. But while there will be some people who may “go right back to their wasteful ways”, as you say, there will be others who won’t, who may actually be challenged by the message of Earth Hour to look at their environmental footprint.

I think one of the big mistakes of activists is to expect immediate or 100% changes. The truth is, there are as many types of motivations as there are people: many people who act positively as a result of a threat — global warming, for example — may react negatively just as quickly if they read something that says global warming isn’t a threat. I believe it’s much healthier to start with small changes that you’ve thought about, small acts that grow over time to big changes.

8. Graham Cliff - April 28, 2008

“……..how little changes in individual behaviour can lead to collective improvement. Very encouraging!”

What would be more encouraging would be the public learning of the “hidden” harm being done by creating the 24 hour day which is insidiously killing off Life On Earth.
Learn more at http://www.lightpollution.org.uk
And remember, do NOT waste energy. Turn OFF unnecessary lights at any time.

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